In Part 1 and Part 2 we took a look at what happened in Oz and why it’s just so dratted sad. Essentailly, Oz suffers from a fourth wall blindness. Everything takes place solely in the story, and it is not at all self aware of it’s own attitude. The writers are fully immersed in Oscar’s story. And you know, that’s understandable. That’s why in these articles, I usually bash the story and not the writers. It’s their job to be in that story.
But it’s also, their job to be above their story, too. To be aware of the things their story is saying, beyond just the scripted words and actions. Writers need to be self-aware of their work. This is why we studied books and stories like “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” in school – so we could see examples of authors who knew exactly what the hell they were saying in the spaces between the lines.
Oz, and movies/books like it is why we need to deconstruct our own work. I like to think that if the creators had realized what kind of movie they were actually making, they would have taken it in a different direction. They would have said “Shit son, that’s not what we want to say.” and maybe actually turned the wicked witch angle on it’s head and put her on Glinda’s side. Or Oscar would have actually realized what he’d done and sincerely apologized (recall, he never said “I’m sorry”, only acknowledged that it wasn’t Theodora’s fault) before he got the kiss from Glinda.
Just like Riddick, there were so many other options, just as awesome and exciting, and still with the fun(??) plot twists of “is he dead!? Did he really leave!?” which could have saved the narrative of this movie. But it’s like no one saw the problem… and that’s a problem.
I understand. It’s scary to look at your work with the same eye that you would use in your English classes and really dig into what your subconscious has thrown in there. You might find something you don’t like – such as an internalized romanticizing of rape, or that everyone who dies just happens to be female or male, or that all your villains are black, or fat, or disfigured, or asian, or that you’ve inadvertanly implied through the entire arc of your plot that all women besides your main, strong female character, are idiots, or crazy, or illogical.
It happens. I found every single one of those in The Athele Series at some point. Some of it is what you mean to say but not how you meant to say it. (Morgan intentionally disdains other women… but I didn’t mean to imply that the others who show up in the story aren’t of worth!). Some of it is pure lazy writing or tunnel vision on my own words (Um, no, I most certainly did not mean to not have that woman not fight her rapist. That line about inevitability was not meant to be read that way!!). Some of it is just assumption (no. the man doesn’t always have to die to throw things into chaos, duh.) and some of it is just how you read the books before the one you wrote (you know, the bad guys in real life are often shockingly plain.)
The point is that you won’t know until you look. Finding these things in your writing does not make you a bad person, nor does accidentally writing them, over and over. That’s not what makes a bad writer. Writing without mind, assuming that your words will come across exactly as you meant them to every single person from so many walks of life… that makes a bad writer.
Find a friend who can read from a standpoint entirely different from yours, who is practiced at reading mindfully. I have two major ones (not including Michael), and they have pointed all of the above scenarios out to me, and discussed at length whether it’s a function of the story, or an unfortunate mistake in implication. Write mini dissertations as to the deeper meaning of your work, your main character’s mind-set, your villain’s features and motivation. Not only will it show you what your story is saying in the subtext, it will make for a stronger story. Condense scenes and plots into one or two sentences. Several times, focusing on different elements.
Have you done this? Have you ever found distressing things hidden in the subtext of your writing? What was the worst one?